The rosella's last walk (an eco parable)

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On the Monday evening following Easter Sunday we go for a walk along a clifftop above the Ninety Mile Beach in East Gippsland, Victoria. This stretch of land is deeply familiar to my husband, a place where remnant bush edges up to domestic house blocks and stretches down to the beach below.

Dead birds (Julie Perrin)The ti tree and banksia bushland forms part of the scant wild space remaining in coastland slowly eroded by development.

Only two days before, we had stopped in our tracks, mouths agape, before a barren wasteland of house blocks cleared for sale. Standing under an amputated canopy of green we gazed at empty sky and bare ground. The bulldozers had left nothing to chance; shattered sticks lay across churned dirt.

The first section of the walk we regularly take passes the front yards of a mixture of holiday houses and permanent dwellings. Public access along the clifftop passes their balconies and glassed frontages; windows stare blankly out to the saltwater. Any tree that impedes the view here is summarily topped.

Hurrying across the mown cooch grass verges, I always feel a little exposed, as if I am intruding on private views of the vast ocean. A viewing deck for whale spotting reminds me this is indeed public land.

Andy, my husband, walks not far ahead of me. At the threshold of the bushland he ducks under a ti tree branch. As I stoop to follow him, a small movement on the grass catches my eye. At the corner of the house block on the cusp of the bushland are two brightly coloured birds.

A vibrant lime green bird with blue and red markings at its throat lies prone and unmoving on the grass. The other bird, in the familiar reds and blues of the crimson rosella, is scrabbling along the ground, some inches from its companion.

 

"As Andy and I stand up from stooping towards the birds our arms brush. We are reluctant to leave. Shyly we ask one another, 'Did that just happen?'"

 

I speak my husband's name. He stops and turns. 'Look,' I whisper. His eyes follow my hand and take in the birds on the grass, one probably dead, the other twisted with injury. Andy steps out of the ti tree and lifts his eyes, scanning the house and yard.

No obvious cause of injury is visible. The birds are not close to the windows of the house where they may have stunned themselves flying into the glass. The house is dark with the forlorn shadow that shrouds unused holiday houses. There are no tell-tale scattered feathers from a cat attack, no obvious predators, and the dogs of the neighbouring house are lazing on the upstairs balcony behind a glass wall.

The bright green bird lies utterly still in the late afternoon light, showing no signs of life. But the rosella keeps lifting its right wing, then its tail, fanning the blue feathers and collapsing them. It scrabbles with its right claw grabbing at the grass, propelling itself towards its companion. My husband and I glance at each other and down at the birds again.

As the rosella convulsively fans its tail up and out, we see the symmetry of the underside — light blue feathers with a dark blue outline, packed neatly and splayed evenly. The tail repeatedly bursts up and fans open and closes and drops down — beauty and desperation in one awkward rearing motion.

We stand close and unmoving. Everything stops except the bird on the ground. The rosella finishes traversing those few inches of grass and reaches its companion. It rests its craning head on the ground, beak to beak with the other bird. There is no more heaving, the rosella lifts its wing and lays it along the prone body of the bright bird. The open wing lies like a mantle over the dead bird, covering all but its head and tail.

Once in this position the crimson bird raises and releases its tail in a frail salute. After this the only movement is a little shudder of air, the last breath of the rosella.

As Andy and I stand up from stooping towards the birds, our arms brush. We are reluctant to leave. Shyly we ask one another, 'Did that just happen?' We walk silently into the tunnel of ti tree towards gnarled and ageing banksias then back along the beach below.

The next morning we return to find the birds where we last saw them. We photograph them from above in beak-to-beak intimacy. Checking the tattered bird identification book, we learn that the bright green bird is a juvenile rosella.

When we leave them, the two birds remain together, undisturbed on the grass at the clifftop, the wind riffling the wing feathers of the adult bird.

 

 

Julie PerrinJulie Perrin is a Melbourne writer, oral storyteller and Associate Teacher at Pilgrim Theological College, University of Divinity.

Topic tags: Julie Perrin, development, wildlife, eco-spirituality

 

 

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Existing comments

Julie, thanks for sharing that experience. Sadly the world is now experiencing the sixth mass extinction of species, the first mass species extinction caused by human beings. Destruction of natural habitat and climate change are principal causes of this mass extinction. We all need to do what we can to lessen the effects of these tragedies. We might well grieve for the loss of birds and other species, but even now people grieve for their lost family members whose lives have been taken by more extreme weather events caused by escalating climate change. The future will be very bleak for our species if we don't take the warnings of climate scientists seriously. Let us also vote for politicians who do!
Grant Allen | 30 April 2018


Thank you for this beautiful description of something I see around me in my area which used to be home to koala, blue-tongued lizards, wrens, spotted pardelotes, rosellas, etc. Sadly now, the residents who have moved here seem to prefer neat hedges, palms and exotic species. The loss of habitat is gradual, severe, increasing and seemingly inevitable. People are blind about the loss of biodiversity and the government hell-bent on promoting "growth". I constantly feel sad though I do my best as a volunteer bushcarer!
Anne Lanyon | 01 May 2018


Julie thank you for your sad eco parable. Barren wasteland we are creating and birds and insects and others are deserting. There are two words I would like to see forbidden as terrible swearwords, blasphemy actually: "tidy" and "neat". God does not do tidy, at least on this scruffy, scrambly, rugged continent.
Janet | 01 May 2018


A truly mysterious story Julie but so full of wonder and pathos. The rational man wants to ask, "What happened to them?" The poet ponders the mystery of bonds that are not broken even by death.
Rodney Barry horsfield | 01 May 2018


Wow! How great to experience that and then to share it with all of us with a challenging (to all of us) title. Thanks Julie.
Christine Carolan | 01 May 2018


So beautiful Julie. Thank you
Saide Cameron | 01 May 2018


I felt so sad reading the story of the two beautiful birds. Life is so precious. The developers destroy what people come to enjoy. The view and all of nature. If only they would think long term and really care what they are doing rather than short term profit. The picture was so sad but so lovely. Thanks for sharing.
Angela | 01 May 2018


Perhaps it is confirmation bias when an article about an animal dying next to former bushland, now housing estate, and published under the category of ‘Environment’ leads to drawing a bow that human vandalism of the environment must have had something to do with it. Unless the behaviour was random, accidental and therefore of no literary significance, the same thing would have occurred in the lush undergrowth of a healthy forest. Of course, it might also be confirmation bias to suggest that as the atheist’s idol of Evolution as the last word in everything cannot explain the anthropomorphism of the crimson rosella’s last act, an act that cannot have contributed to propagating the species, perhaps the elder bird was instinctively doing something attributed to an exhortation by St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of creatures created in an image but not the image of God, preaching a wordless gospel of its immanent deity who shelters his charges under his pinions, even as a dying first-born: an anthropomorphism to the atheist a stumbling block and to the postmodernist, for whom one interpretation is as invalid as another, an illusion.
Roy Chen Yee | 02 May 2018


Crimson rosellas are truly wonderful creatures. A pair lived in my garden for some years, produced their young, and treated us, without fear, as part of their landscape. One day the female started calling from her perch on top of a banksia rose archway and suddenly fell to the ground dead. Her mate arrived and stayed with her for a number of hours walking around her fallen body and nuzzling her with his beak, prodding her unsuccessfully towards response. I left her where she lay until next day when her mate again came and sat with her for some time before flying away never to return to our garden. And they reckon God made man, not the birds, in his image .
john frawley | 02 May 2018


Very touching and somewhat arresting account, Julie. Thank you.
Peter McKinnon | 02 May 2018


Thank you for this story John Frawley, it feels very resonant with what I saw.
Julie Perrin | 03 May 2018


This is so well written Julie, I'm feeling the sadness again of what we do as humans to our fellow creatures on this wee planet. Thank you for sharing. Big love to you
Nina Hawkins | 03 May 2018


Thank you Julie for this beautiful story. I love the way you call us to witness these "life moments", to see those things that call us into the bigger picture, of God's work in creating and in all creation. Told with such beauty and tenderness. Love.
Fiona Bottcher | 03 May 2018


So moving brought a tear to my eye! Man won't be happy until nature is removed for the mighty development. We will all be sorry when it's too late. Gippsland's natural environment is under serious threat and Lilly D"ambrosia cares not.
Trish | 03 May 2018


This is a moving portrayal of exquisite tenderness in nature amidst the competing realities that are occurring on yet another of our wondrous stretches of coastline. It is beautifully and sensitively portrayed. I was completely drawn into the awe and sorrow of it at multiple levels. Thankyou Julie!
Alison Langmead | 03 May 2018


Roy, it's unlikely two healthy rosellas would suddenly drop dead in the middle of a bushland - especially not a juvenile one (the greener one) accompanied by what's likely its mother teaching it to feed and forage on its first few days out of the nest. It's quite likely the birds did fly into a large glass panel/balcony balustrade/window and then attempted to flutter away concussed and ended up some distance from the glass before dying. No glass panels in bushland - so I can't see any hint of anthropomorphism here.
AURELIUS | 03 May 2018


Thank you Julie for this compelling story which made me stop still in my day and wonder. Your touching story also reminded me of another mysterious happening many years ago. In the middle of a road in Carlton I once saw a raven hopping round and round a mate as it lay motionless after being struck by a car. The raven kept gently nudging the inert bird and tugging a little at its wing. I watched for some time and when I finally left, the raven was still circling the other.
Sally | 08 May 2018


I want to let this beautiful, poignant story (and the photograph) sink slowly over time, deep into my heart - I want to allow it to change me.
Jan Morgan | 10 May 2018


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